Two years ago, the wound management division of global medical device company Smith & Nephew sought to roll out a new e-learning regimen in eight countries. The rapidly changing market of this business unit demanded a faster, more effective employee education system, so learning leaders in the organization decided to initiate a blended approach by adding online learning to it existing offerings, which included traditional classroom-based training.
At present, the company is about halfway through the process, said Sally Franks, Smith & Nephew’s e-learning development manager. She was tasked with promoting and encouraging adoption of the new modality as part of the wound management division’s staff development options. “We have the system up and running,” she said. “We are live in three countries out of eight we’re working on. Those are kind of the big three in terms of number of staff: U.K., U.S.A. and Germany.” Franks added that it had been easier to roll out new e-learning programs in the United States because employees were already using elements of the systems.
“It’s been very much a phased approach,” she said. “It’s not that we’ve replaced other parts of our training. It took us quite a long time to get through all of these software, connectivity and networking issues. We started to go live in May of last year, and we’ve been running pilots in lots of places, so we’re only partially live. We’re not in full-launch phases.”
Smith & Nephew has seen positive developments since the program went live last year, such as increased participation in educational opportunities. “So far, it’s enabled people to take training that they perhaps wouldn’t otherwise make the time for,” Franks said. “Where somebody previously might have had to go off-site for a couple of days or something, and they just wouldn’t be able to do it, it now has enabled them to take some training via e-learning.”
The company has seen other benefits as well, such as a rise in employees’ awareness of needed skills and competencies through an online talent bank, which can provide reminders to workers on what they should be learning, from product training to simple PC skills like Word or PowerPoint. “Previously, it would have been quite complicated for us to do, whereas now it’s straightforward,” Franks said. “People can just enroll in a course and take it. It’s also enabling us to enhance our reach of training, particularly in the sales area, where it’s very difficult to get people together.”
However, Smith & Nephew has seen its fair share of obstacles since starting the implementation process for its e-learning program. “One of the issues we have with e-learning is that unless you force people to take the training that way, they just don’t do it.” Franks said. “Where we have had some successes is where it’s pinned into another program and there’s a deadline, or we’ve given them a cut-off date. People are still a little bit suspicious of e-learning, until they really understand the benefits. I think they understand the benefits by seeing what it can do for them and also experiencing e-learning for themselves.
“Another challenge we really had was that training people tend to be phenomenally busy people,” she added. “It was just kind of fitting in the time around existing commitments. That took some work—getting people to come in and contribute to the project. As soon as some of the trainers see what this can actually do for them, they’re really on board with it, but it really takes a certain amount of training and understanding before they can really see that.” Nephew said that to get the involvement of both learners and educators, she and her team communicated frequently with both and emphasized the benefits of using the new technologies.
Although Franks said Smith & Nephew would be implementing a more thorough metrics system in the future, it was too early to make certain pronouncements about improved proficiency or cost savings brought about by e-learning. She was quite confident in the potential of the program, though. “It’s still in its early days, but I think it’s helping to reinforce some of the classroom-based programs that we have,” she said. “It has to be built in with any other training that you have running. We’re getting more value for the money from training people take, because they either do pre- or post-learning on e-learning.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.